Intel's Leap Into The AI Chip Market
Intel has announced its first processor that is designed for artificial intelligence. The chip is intended to be used in data centres to speed up AI-related processing tasks. The processor has the name "Nervana Neural Network Processor" (NNP-I). However, Intel has given it a more approachable code name, as it does for its desktop and mobile processors, "Spring Hill". The processor is based on the architecture of Intel's 10th generation 10 nm microprocessors "Ice Lake".
By basing their new chip on a microprocessor that is mostly used for mobile, Intel has ensured that the chip uses minimal power and is as energy-efficient as possible. This means the chip can not only be used for processing in data centres but it can also be used onboard AI-powered automated machines that run on battery or need to be as energy-efficient as possible.
Additionally, the chip is on a PCB which slots into an M.2. port that is typically used for high-end solid-state drives. Not only does this mean that businesses don't have to buy motherboards dedicated to the processor, but it also means that there is a guaranteed high-bandwidth connection between the processor and the computer.
Furthermore, 2 computing engines and the graphics engine have been taken out of the chip presumably for efficiency purposes and also to make it smaller so it can fit into an M.2. slot.
The chip intends to be a sort of accelerator, a concept that is widely seen in the field of artificial intelligence, for servers with the Intel Xeon chip. Naveen Rao, general manager of Intel's artificial intelligence product group, stated that “In order to reach a future situation of ‘AI everywhere’, we have to deal with huge amounts of data generated and make sure organizations are equipped with what they need to make effective use of the data and process them where they are collected,”. Additionally, he goes onto state that “These computers need acceleration for complex AI applications.” According to Intel, the hardware chip will help the Intel Xeon chips in large data centres meet the rising demand for complicated computation.
Recent times have seen rising competition between Intel and its competitor, AMD. Since the latter has started getting better at producing higher-end chips not only for desktops but for server-side computation, Intel needed to get a one-up in order to ensure the continuation of orders for their high-end server chips, the Xeons. Since this chip is designed to work with Intel Xeon chips, this chip gives Intel that "one-up" over its competitors. Intel has stated that Facebook, one of the data giants, has already started using the Sandhill chip in its data centres.
The Sandhill chip comes after Intel made a series of investments in Israel, one of the rising tech capitals of the world. Intel's two big investments were in two Israeli startup companies, Habana labs and NeuroBlade, alongside other smaller firms.